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STOCKPORT: Hospital chiefs promised to find a ‘permanent solution’ to parking problems around Stepping Hill 13 years ago

STOCKPORT: Hospital chiefs promised to find a ‘permanent solution’ to parking problems around Stepping Hill 13 years ago

Islington Road, Stockport - Nick Statham LDR

Angry residents are demanding answers after it emerged hospital bosses promised  to find a ‘permanent solution’ to parking problems around Stepping Hill 13 years ago – but the council has done nothing to hold them to it.

Instead town hall bosses last year put forward proposals for a ‘controlled parking zone (CPZ)’ with residents having the option of buying  two annual permits. A pay and display scheme was mooted for hospital staff and visitors.

The proposals were slammed as ‘outrageous’ by local campaigners Stepping Hill Neighbourhood Park Action Group (SNAG) and roundly rejected in a public consultation – with 95 pc of respondents saying they did not agree with the scheme.

Tensions had begun to reach boiling point following years of problems in the area, with members of the community often at odds with hospital staff and visitors over inconsiderate parking.

But  it has now emerged the hospital signed a legal agreement in 2008  promising to ‘ensure that parking demand does not exceed on site provision or place a demand on any nearby streets and car parks’.

This was a condition – enforceable by the council – set after planning permission was granted for an extension to the hospital and associaed parking.

The hospital had already been granted permission for temporary parking decks at the Stepping Hill site back in 2004.

This was given on the basis they were ‘intended only as a temporary measure until a more permanent parking arrangement for the whole site is agreed and provided’.

Initially due to expire in 2019,  this arrangement has now been extended by the council until 2022.

The unearthing of these previous agreements has left people furious – and bewildered as to why the council has not insisted Stockport NHS Foundation Trust honour its legal obligations.

At the latest full council meeting, residents queried why the council had not taken enforcement action and there were suggestions it could leave the authority open to accusations it ‘misled’ people after presenting the 2020 CPZ as ‘the only solution to hospital-generated parking problems’.

At the meeting Councillor Bailey, cabinet member for Sustainable Stockport, said she had only found out about the ‘2008 agreement’ a matter of days earlier. She added that it was a ‘very complex and complicated situation’ and she was awaiting legal advice before answering residents’ questions.

Following the meeting SNAG said residents in Great Moor and Stepping Hill felt ‘abandoned’ by most of the council, having been left ‘to conduct all our own investigations’.

And they claim ‘obfuscation from the authorities’ has made progress on the issue ‘purposely slow’.

A statement issued by the group reads: “During questions to the council, residents have been made to feel parking problems are their fault for rejecting the patently unfair CPZ — it was the council who petitioned to have all hospital services moved to Stepping Hill from Stockport Infirmary because of the parking problems it caused to the council around the town hall area!

“Having dumped their parking problem onto the residents of Stepping Hill, the council should be even more proactive in solving the parking problem they have produced on the neighbourhood.  All we hear now is that ‘it’s complicated’ and ‘the council member is taking legal advice’.

“How about some apology for lack of progress and commitment to action?”

The group also say they are ‘apprehensive’ about the pending legal advice.

“Given the extent of the special relationship between the trust and the council will the ‘advice’ provide a permanent parking solution or create a smoke screen for further back-tracking and delay?” A spokesperson added.

At the time of writing, the town hall was unable to add anything to Councillor Bailey’s comments at the November 18 full council meeting.

A council spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We are investigating the legal position of the existing planning permission and related legal obligations and will provide an update to the council shortly.”

Meanwhile, hospital bosses say they are striving  to keep car parking on and around the site to a ‘minimum’.

A spokesperson for Stockport NHS Foundation Trust said: “Although car parking at the hospital has reduced during the pandemic, limited car parking spaces are an ongoing challenge for hospital trusts across the country.

“We are continuing to look at a range of options to keep car parking on and around the site to a minimum, both as part of our commitment to the environment, and to ease parking pressures both for our neighbours and ourselves.

They continued: “We encourage all staff and visitors to travel to the hospital via public transport, cycling or walking, the local Park & Ride scheme, car share and other means where possible.

“Increased flexible working for our staff, greater use of online outpatient appointments, and the greatly improved cycling access to the hospital from the planned new Bee Network are other steps we also hope will help reduce parking pressures on and around the site.”

Following the rejection of the Stepping Hill scheme, the council last year adopoted  a revised policy for  Residents Parking Zones (RPZs)  in Stockport.

This is based around a ‘flexible’ approach, including unrestricted parking between certain hours, pay and display options and car club bays.

Stockport full council met at the town hall on November 18.

Words: Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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